Chile is a land of contrasts – desert in the north and the glaciers of Patagonia in the South; the Pacific Ocean on the West coast and the majestic Andes rising in the East. Pencil-thin Chile has rich, fertile soil in its Central Valley. And with the combination of sunny days and cool nights, this area is well-known for producing quality wines.
I recently spent time in this verdant region discovering the best kept secrets of wine tourism near Santiago. With just one stop, American Airlines makes it easy to get to this popular South American spot.
Historical buildings are proudly displayed next to soaring skyscrapers in Santiago, a vibrant cosmopolitan city. Lively neighborhoods overflow with outdoor cafes and local culture. And with its proximity to the imposing Andes, the vast Pacific and a fertile wine region, it is reminiscent of San Francisco’s location.
Santiago proved a convenient base for most of the trip. I explored captivating wine country, winter in the Andes and Valparaiso’s Mediterranean-like climate on the west coast. In fact, when the slopes are open (Chile’s seasons are opposite North America’s), one can leave Santiago in the morning, ski during the day and sip a Pisco sour by the Pacific at sunset.
Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is less than an hour from Santiago. It is a thriving port with steep hills, colorful houses, panoramic views and magical funiculars. Nearby is Vina del Mar with a bustling beach scene.
In one short week, I traveled nonstop and covered a fantastic slice of this beautiful country, tasted spectacular wine, ate sumptuous food and stayed in luxe accommodations.
Before providing a list of “top picks,” here’s a Chilean wine primer: The country’s Central Valley wine region extends from Los Angeles in the south to La Serena in the north and encompasses 14 wine valleys. Throughout, different terroirs and various styles of wine are found. Santiago is in the middle. There are numerous varietals in each valley, but the four valleys we visited are known for certain grapes:Maipo (Cabernet, Syrah, other reds) Casablanca (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah) San Antonio (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah) Cachapoal (Carmenere, Syrah and Cabernet.
Carmenere is the real head turner. Originally planted in Bordeaux, it is now Chile’s signature grape. Carmenere is an outstanding blending grape, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon, but is also a standout on its own. It is medium bodied with a deep red color and aromas of red and black fruits and spices and flavors from green peppers to chocolate.
Not only are the wines outstanding, but they are also reasonably priced – a great buy to drink now or cellar.
Santiago: Where to Stay:
The Aubrey: An artfully restored Spanish Mission style mansion in the hip Bellavista
The W Hotel: The coolest vibe in the Las Condes area.
Santiago: Where to Eat & Drink:
Donde Augusto: This restaurant is in the middle of the Mercado Central (a magnificent 1872
cast iron building and the mecca for fruits, vegetables, wine, fish and over 30 seafood
restaurants). Everything from razor clams to sea urchins.
Pasta E Vino: The hot restaurant in The Aubrey. Superb house made pastas and Chilean wine.
Try the 2008 Vina Indomito Carmenere.
Liguria: Great bar & restaurant packed with locals and teeming with spicy Chilean food and
Tiramisu: Casual favorite for delicious pizza, hearty salads and tender carpaccio.
Valparaiso: Where to Stay & Eat & Drink:
Casa Higueras: This villa-like boutique hotel has sweeping views from each unique room and
mixes modern amenities with charm. It’s restaurant, Montealegre,combines the best
local ingredients with an abundance of Pacific seafood. Try the 2008 Tabali Reserve
Pinot Noir on the exclusively Chilean wine list.
Maipo Valley Wineries:
Undurraga: Test your hand at blending your own wine. Taste Undurraga’s multiple lines including
the T.H. 2008 Limari Syrah, dominated by fresh berries and black pepper.
Haras de Pirque: The unique horseshoe shape winery reflects the owner’s passion for both
his vineyards and thoroughbred farm located on the estate. Don’t miss the Cabernet and
Carmenere from their Character and Elegance labels.
Concha Y Toro: Expansive setting and impressive wines across lines. Standout include Terrunya
and Casillero del Diablo and the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet.
Casablanca Valley Winery
Casas del Bosque: Tour the cellar, indulge at the restaurant, enjoy delicious wines and take in
the knock-out valley views.
San Antonio Valley Winery
Matetic and La Casona Guesthouse: State of the art facilities, organic farming and wonderful
wines from EQ and Corralillo labels. La Casona offers comfortable accommodations in a
stunning vineyard setting with Equilibrio restaurant onsite.
Cachapoal Valley Winery
Altair: Ride horseback through the vineyards and experience the Altair and Sideral
wines – elegant red blends with dark fruits to drink now or savor later.
Valle Nevado: Ski the highest resort in the Chilean Andes, soak up the sun, people watch,
eat and of course, drink Chilean wine. During Wine Week enjoy the likes of Emiliana’s
organic and biodynamic wines. For delicious Carmenere try the Eco and Novas lines.
Chile is captivating – the country, the culture, the people and of course, the wine. Don’t miss this adventure.